"I don't believe it was anybody, after all, father," persisted the woman. "Bud's always seein' things. I don't believe there was anybody there. Come in; supper's gettin' all cold."
"Well, I'll jest fire, to let 'em know there's powder 'n shot round here," said the fiend. "If it hits any on 'em roamin' round, he won't know what hurt him;" and levelling his gun at random, with his drunken, unsteady hand he fired. The bullet whistled away harmlessly into the empty darkness. Hearkening a few moments, and hearing no cry, he hiccuped, "Mi-i-issed him that time," and went in to his supper.
Alessandro did not dare to stir for a long time. How he cursed his own folly in having brought himself into this plight! What needless pain of waiting he was inflicting on the faithful one, watching for him in that desolate and fearful place of graves! At last he ventured,-- sliding along on his belly a few inches at a time, till, several rods from the house, he dared at last to spring to his feet and bound away at full speed for Hartsel's.
Hartsel's was one of those mongrel establishments to be seen nowhere except in Southern California. Half shop, half farm, half tavern, it gathered up to itself all the threads of the life of the whole region. Indians, ranchmen, travellers of all sorts, traded at Hartsel's, drank at Hartsel's, slept at Hartsel's. It was the only place of its kind within a radius of twenty miles; and it was the least bad place of its kind within a much wider radius.
Hartsel was by no means a bad fellow -- when he was sober; but as that condition was not so frequent as it should have been, he sometimes came near being a very bad fellow indeed. At such times everybody was afraid of him,-- wife, children, travellers, ranchmen, and all. "It was only a question of time and occasion," they said, "Hartsel's killing somebody sooner or later;" and it looked as if the time were drawing near fast. But, out of his cups, Hartsel was kindly, and fairly truthful; entertaining, too, to a degree which held many a wayfarer chained to his chair till small hours of the morning, listening to his landlord's talk. How he had drifted from Alsace to San Diego County, he could hardly have told in minute detail himself, there had been so many stages and phases of the strange journey; but he had come to his last halt now. Here, in this Temecula, he would lay his bones. He liked the country. He liked the wild life, and, for a wonder, he liked the Indians. Many a good word he spoke for them to travellers who believed no good of the race, and evidently listened with polite incredulity when he would say, as he often did: "I've never lost a dollar off these Indians yet. They do all their trading with me. There's some of them I trust as high's a hundred dollars. If they can't pay this year, they'll pay next; and if they die, their relations will pay their debts for them, a little at a time, till they've got it all paid off. They'll pay in wheat, or bring a steer, maybe, or baskets or mats the women make; but they'll pay. They're honester 'n the general run of Mexicans about paying; I mean Mexicans that are as poor's they are."
Hartsel's dwelling-house was a long, low adobe building, with still lower flanking additions, in which were bedrooms for travellers, the kitchen, and storerooms. The shop was a separate building, of rough planks, a story and a half high, the loft of which was one great dormitory well provided with beds on the floor, but with no other article of bedroom furniture. They who slept in this loft had no fastidious standards of personal luxury. These two buildings, with some half-dozen out-houses of one sort and another, stood in an enclosure surrounded by a low white picket fence, which gave to the place a certain home-like look, spite of the neglected condition of the ground, which was bare sand, or sparsely tufted with weeds and wild grass. A few plants, parched and straggling, stood in pots and tin cans around the door of the dwelling-house. One hardly knew whether they made the place look less desolate or more so. But they were token of a woman's hand, and of a nature which craved something more than the unredeemed wilderness around her afforded.
A dull and lurid light streamed out from the wide-open door of the store. Alessandro drew cautiously near. The place was full of men, and he heard loud laughing and talking. He dared not go in. Stealing around to the rear, he leaped the fence, and went to the other house and opened the kitchen door. Here he was not afraid. Mrs. Hartsel had never any but Indian servants in her employ. The kitchen was lighted only by one dim candle. On the stove were sputtering and hissing all the pots and frying-pans it would hold. Much cooking was evidently going on for the men who were noisily rollicking in the other house.
Seating himself by the fire, Alessandro waited. In a few moments Mrs. Hartsel came hurrying back to her work. It was no uncommon experience to find an Indian quietly sitting by her fire. In the dim light she did not recognize Alessandro, but mistook him, as he sat bowed over, his head in his hands, for old Ramon, who was a sort of recognized hanger-on of the place, earning his living there by odd jobs of fetching and carrying, and anything else he could do.
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